Al Green | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Al Green

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After surviving a potentially lethal tumble from a stage in 1979, soul legend Al Green turned almost exclusively to gospel music. Much of his recorded output since has suffered from weak material and mediocre arrangements, but Green's otherworldly voice has never lost any of its transcendent power, even if his creamy falsetto has dropped slightly over time. In 1995 he briefly returned to the secular realm with Your Heart's in Good Hands, but the change of subject matter didn't alter the essential pattern: this time Green's improvisational prowess let him sing his way past a lackluster set of contemporary R & B songs. He's got a lot more to work with on 2003's I Can't Stop (Blue Note), his reunion with producer Willie Mitchell, the man behind the board for all of Green's 70s hits on Hi Records. Mitchell brought with him the same vintage vocal mike he used to make those records, and many of the superb musicians who played on them. While some of the new material--written by Green on his own or with Mitchell--tries too hard to re-create the old vibe, most of it is pretty irresistible, and the best is vital enough to dispel the cloud of nostalgia entirely. Although Green's gospel-era concerts have always leavened the sacred material with some pop hits, these shows ought to invert the ratio. Opening both shows is the remarkable new soul singer Ricky Fante, whose recent horn-stoked major-label debut Introducing... (Virgin) evokes the spirit of raspy-voiced greats like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and eschews the digital trickery of the nu-soul brigade in favor of sanguine organic instrumentation. He sounds like the real deal. Friday's show is sold-out. Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.

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